DJ Khaled’s ‘Grateful’ Packs Star Power, but Not Enough Punch
No one has things figured out quite like DJ Khaled. The man has almost as many hit singles under his belt as his Snapchat has meme-fodder, yet the 41-year-old music mogul shows no signs of slowing down, cracking the double-digit mark with “Grateful,” his tenth star-studded studio effort.
Clocking in at a healthy 87 minutes, “Grateful” bubbles with the same larger-than-life energy that Khaled himself projects. At times, it’s infectious — a glossy wave of positivity that flows from the speakers and envelops the dance floor; but mostly, it’s overwhelming — almost obnoxious in its exuberance.
Just looking at the album’s massive track list can be daunting, with an ensemble of hip hop’s biggest and baddest gracing Khaled’s anthemic beats. But perhaps more awe-inspiring than the Avengers-esque roster of top 40 juggernauts Khaled assembles for his “Grateful” team is the way he manages to find a place for each of them, whether it’s an enduring formula like Beyonce and Jay-Z on “Shining” or a refreshing juxtaposition of Nicki Minaj’s razor sharp flow and Alicia keys’ poise on “Nobody.”
Although Khaled stacks “Grateful” with household names, the result falls short of the high bar. The first voice we hear belongs to Sizzla, a reggae artist who might not have a name value on par with Future or Travis Scott in the United States, but whose influence resonates throughout the reggae community. On the woodwind-accented “(Intro) I’m So Grateful,” Sizzla carries the vocal to a cinematic crescendo while Khaled thanks his friends and enemies for shaping him into the man he is today — a man who produces really well-done intros, apparently.
Khaled can’t resist but to leave a few touching messages for his baby son on some of the album’s more heartfelt cuts like the Chance the Rapper-fronted “I Love You So much,” where Khaled promises “You’re born blessed / You’re my son / I love you / You’re a mogul / You’re an icon / You’re a legend / You’re the greatest.” It’s the kind of pep talk every father gives their boy at some point; leave it to Khaled to build a funky, gospel-infused track around it and follow through with the most musical rendition of the ABC’s you’ll ever hear.
Like most Khaled projects, tracks run the spectrum of commercial appeal, from swank and bouncy disco beats with Travis Scott and Jeremih at the helm on “Don’t Quit” to a latin-influenced collaboration between up-and-comer Bryson Tiller and top 40 mainstay Rihanna on “Wild Thoughts.” Just because Khaled doesn’t rap doesn’t mean the album is without its share of bars; Pusha T and Jadakiss lay down scathing verses on “Good Man,” while Nas unleashes his veteran flow all over “It’s Secured” alongside Travis Scott’s layered hook.
But the most alluring part of any Khaled effort has to be the collaborations. Khaled’s albums play like major Hollywood motion pictures in their sheer scope and all-star cast, and sometimes when we watch a movie, we can’t help but feel a kick of adrenaline when our favorite actors go line for line in a scene — think when the Avengers finally assembled in New York after a whole movie of bickering. That same spike in satisfaction comes in the form of Georgia hip hop forces Migos, Future, 21 Savage and T.I. working together on “Iced Out My Arms,” a track rife with the signature Atlanta trap sound meant to be taken straight to the dome.
Ultimately, “Grateful” packs more of what fans have come to expect from DJ Khaled: a few fiery verses mixed with a ton of radio-ready fare. It doesn’t push the envelope or try and move the game forward in any discernible way, but the scope of talent permeating through the project is undeniable. Khaled continues to build on his formula of steadily churning out albums that most fans find accessible. This probably won’t be knocking down any doors come award season. To use the man’s own phrase, this is not “the best music,” but it will do.
“Grateful” is available on Apple Music June 23.